Zillij – The art of ceramic lace

In Arabic cut-tile work is called Zillij. This work I made on the 2nd year of my Masters and it is a copy of a zillij panel in the Jame Mosque of Yazd (built in 1330-1365 AD). Zillij is basically ceramic mosaics, the whole panel is made out of individual tile pieces.

This Yazd zillij piece is based on 10-fold geometry; the colours are traditional for the region – turquoise, cobalt blue. Zillij reflects my love to geometry and ceramics is combined with my admiration to Iranian art. During my trip to Iran in Friday mosque of Yazd I saw this zillij panel and decided to make a copy of it; it looked so fresh and lacy as if it was not made of clay. I was shocked, confused, impressed and fell in love with the work immediately. Later I realised that the beauty of zillij for me comes from the magic of geometry, clay and glaze – three ingredients of every zillij.

Traditionally each individual piece of tile was cut out of pre-fired and glazed tile. And it is still like that in Morocco and Iran, but it takes years of practice to make a perfect shape. The easier way for non-professional to use a plaster mould. Tile shapes are cut out of rubber, wood or any other modelling material, glued to the flat surface and covered with liquid plaster. Then you glaze and fire pieces, as pieces are small one firing is enough. Fired and glazed pieces I stick on a paper or on mesh face down, then cover it with adhesive to stick down to the board (or wall). Remove the paper and grout the gaps.

P.S. If you want to use materials from this post, acknowledge use please. Thanks!

Tracing paper with tile shapes traced, rubber tile shapes, plaster moulds

Tracing paper with tile shapes traced, rubber tile shapes, plaster moulds

Plaster diluted with water, rubber tile shapes glued to glass

Plaster diluted with water, rubber tile shapes glued to glass

Plaster mould filled in with clay

Plaster mould filled in with clay

Tiles drying

Tiles drying

Glazed tiles in a kiln before firing

Glazed tiles in a kiln before firing

Glazed tiles in a kiln after firing

Glazed tiles in a kiln after firing

Glazed tiles in a kiln after firing

Glazed tiles in a kiln after firing

Tiles stuck down to craft paper face down (glaze down)

Tiles stuck down to craft paper face down (glaze down)

Tiles stuck down to craft paper face down (glaze down)

Tiles stuck down to craft paper face down (glaze down)

Zillij stuck down to paper and covered with adhesive

Zillij stuck down to paper and covered with adhesive

When plywood is put on zillij it's good to walk on it to make adhesive come between pieces

When plywood is put on zillij it’s good to walk on it to make adhesive come between pieces

Walking on plywood

Walking on plywood

Leave overnight under pressure

Leave overnight under pressure

Zillij with craft paper removed. Plywood needs to be cut out

Zillij with craft paper removed. Plywood needs to be cut out

Zillij - final piece. Copy of the Yazd Jame mosque panel by Marina Alin

Zillij – final piece. Copy of the Yazd Jame mosque panel by Marina Alin

Jame Mosque, Yazd, Iran. 14th century

Jame Mosque, Yazd, Iran. 14th century

Experiments with extra border pieces
Experiments with extra border pieces

Experiments with extra border pieces

Experiments with extra border pieces

Experiments with extra border pieces

Experiments with extra border pieces

Experiments with extra border pieces

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2 thoughts on “Zillij – The art of ceramic lace

  1. Thank you so much for this beautiful posting on Persian tile work. I remember once I read an article in a Saudi Aramco periodical that focused on the engineering feat and mathematical, geometrical wonders of panels of tile work in a shrine complex in the city of Isfahan, a place least visited by tourists. I will find the link on the Net for you to read. I’m sure you will enjoy it. By the way, I’m a tour guide in Iran and I took special interest in reading your wonderful posting.

    • Dear Mohammad, thank you for your interest and for the comment. It would be lovely to read the article you’ve mentioned. Iran and Isfahan particularly has lots of places worth visiting especially for traditional artists. I will write more posts about Persian crafts, visit this blog from time to time if you are interested. All the best

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